|"The Flying Carpet"|
Victor Vasnetsov, Wikimedia
If I’m completely honest, the first fantasy books I read were probably Enid Blyton’s magic folk of the Faraway Tree. But seven year olds grow up fast and I was soon diving into Lloyd Alexander, discovering Narnia and a whole range of young adult books. Diana Wynne Jones remains a favourite till this day, and does anyone else remember “Mind Call” by Wilanne Schneider Belden?
But it was “Beauty” by Robin McKinley that showed me how magically romance and fantasy weave together. Patricia Wrede (who can miss her Enchanted Forest Chronicles?), Barbara Hambly (I love “Bride of the Rat God” and its early Hollywood setting), Ursula le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Scarborough, and the list goes on. I fell in love with romantic fantasy.
Some people have this idea that the fantasy genre is escapist. Sure, I insist on a happy ending, the good triumphing over the bad, the heroine getting her hero. But a fantasy can challenge as well as reassure.
I think Terry Pratchett is one of the sharpest, and definitely wittiest, social commentators around, and his work is pure fantasy. The Discworld presents a funhouse mirror to our society and we see our ridiculousness in it. He’s in the tradition of Jonathan Swift, who satirised his society in “Gulliver’s Travels”, a fantasy classic.
Unlike science fiction stories which explore what might be possible, fantasy embraces the emotional landscape of fairytales and legend, the land that never was but ought to be. If we ever lose our passport to that land, our sense of wonder, then I think the real world becomes a harsher place.
I seem to have wandered a bit from my starting point, talking about my fantasy reading journey. It always happens. In the fantasy genre there are so many fascinating things to talk about, you can’t help straying. Fantasy novels are a celebration of life.